In the first scientific study to analyze whether facial exercises can improve appearance, researchers report that having a “fit” face does, in fact, improve facial tone, firmness and shape.
Facial aging is not only a result of skin laxity and sun damage but also of sub-structural volume loss of fat and muscle, according to the recent JAMA Dermatology research letter.
The authors report on 16 women, ages 40 to 65, who had two sets of face-to-face 90-minute training sessions from a facial exercise instructor. They continued to do the exercises at home for 20 weeks. Patients did the exercises 30 minutes a day for the first eight weeks and every other day for the remaining 20 weeks.
“Facial exercises that may be beneficial include those that entail puckering and squeezing the cheeks,” dermatologist and lead author Murad Alam, M.D., M.B.A., vice chair and professor of dermatology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release on the study. “There are many muscles that collectively allow movement of the cheeks, and our study showed that building these up makes the upper and lower cheeks look fuller.”
The facial exercise regimen includes 32 distinct facial exercises, each performed for about a minute.
“One is The Cheek Lifter: Open mouth and form O, position upper lip over teeth, smile to lift cheek muscles up, put fingers lightly on top part of cheek, release check muscles to lower them, and lift back up. Repeat by lowering and lifting the cheeks.
Another exercise is The Happy Cheeks Sculpting: Smile without showing teeth, purse lips together, smile forcing cheek muscles up, place fingers on corners of the mouth and slide them up to the top of the cheeks, hold for 20 seconds,” according to the press release.
Researchers recruited 27 people for the study, but only 16 did all the exercises for its duration. Two blinded dermatologists used standardized photos to compare before and after facial exercise images. Using the Merz-Carruthers Facial Aging Photo Scales, they rated 19 facial features at the study’s start, at week eight and at week 20. The dermatologists also rated each participant’s age at each of the time points; then asked participants if they were happy with the results.
Dermatologists rating the results found an almost three-year decrease in age appearance by week 20. They found the exercises enhanced upper cheek and lower cheek fullness, in particular, and estimated average patient age decreased from 50.8 years at baseline to 49.6 years at eight weeks and 48.1 years at 20 weeks.
Patients reported that they were highly satisfied with the results and noticed improvement on nearly all the facial areas that were rated.
“Assuming the findings are confirmed in a larger study, individuals now have a low-cost, non-toxic way for looking younger or to augment other cosmetic or anti-aging treatments they may be seeking,” Dr. Alam said in the release.
Dr. Alam tells The Aesthetic Channel that patients who are concerned about facial aging and who don't want any medical procedures, may consider facial exercises to add volume to their cheeks and reduce the hollowing that happens with age.
“Alternatively, patients who want to look their best, and already do receive minimally invasive procedures like neuromodulators, lasers and fillers, may be able to add a little to the benefits of these treatments through facial exercises,” Dr. Alam says. “Facial exercises are certainly not a replacement for cosmetic treatments in a dermatologist's office, as these treatments are known to be very safe and very effective.”
Cosmetic dermatologists and surgeons can now tell their patients that there is some evidence that facial exercises that feel good may also help reduce some visible signs of facial aging, he says.